It is important to discuss how definitions is approached from a postmodern perspective. First, as should be evident, there are no universal definitions of any particular word. Meanings are socially constructed. We can talk about how a word is generally used or used by a particular individual, but we can’t talk about a universal approach to language. Furthermore, the same word is often used different in different settings (Wittgenstein’s Language Games). This makes language and communication a complex process with lacks the certainly assumed in modernity and premodernity. My suggestion is to hold on loosely to language and definitions. In other words, it is more important to understand how the world is being used by a particular individual in a particular setting than to debate specific universal definitions of a term or approach to language. A final note, you will find other scholars, including postmodern scholars, who would not agree with the definitions provided here. This is just another wonder of the postmodern world! Click here for an alternative dictionary with some variations in definitions. Readers may also be interested in the Existential Dictionary.

Absolute Relativism: This is an extreme form of relativism which asserts that all truths are equal and completely dependent upon some external or contextual factors. Most forms of relativism are not this extreme.

Anti-Realism: The anti-realists believe there is no ultimate truthTruth is seen as something that is socially constructed and/or relative. See also RealismCritical Realism, and essay On Realism.

Apologetics: A rational defense for the existence of God. This branch of theology emerged in the modern period as a consequence of the changes approaches to proving God existed. Both reason and scientific evidence were used to provide evidences for this rational defense of faith or belief in God.

Bracket: To bracket means to hold constant or remove the influence of. This is similar to the idea of a control in quantitative research. To bracket in philosophical inquiry is used to be to hold constant or control for one’s biases or prejudices. It’s often assumed to allow for an individual to be objectivethrough bracketing their subjective biases.

Capital “T” Truth: See Ultimate Truth.

Critical Realism: Critical realism maintains that there is some ultimate or absolute truth; however, this is always limited in content or scope. Some critical realists state there ultimate truth may only exist on some levels, such as science, but not on others, such as morality. Other critical realists may state that there is an ultimate truth, but it can only be partially known. See also Realism, Essay On Realism.

Deductive Knowledge : Deductive knowledge is extracted from (e.g., deduced) from general principles. Compare with Inductive Knowledge.

Empiricism: Empiricism has an interesting history that provide a great illustration social construction of language. When we think of empiricism today, we generally think of research. “Empirical studies” is a common term for research projects. These research projects generally involve the use of statistics in determining truth as much as the senses. Some research involves very little direct use of the senses in determining truth in the classical sense. Historically, the “empiricism” referred more specifically to knowing through the senses. This initial idea was “I know because I’ve seen” or “I know because I felt (touched) it.”

Epistemological Humility: This term is used to refer to an understanding of the limits of an epistemological perspective. Epistemological humility reflects a belief or adherence to an epistemological stance as valid or authoritative, but not complete. Generally, this is used in the context of an epistemology which is associated with a particular viewpoint, such as a religious perspective or scientism. Compare with Epistemological Relativism.

Epistemological Modesty: See Epistemological Humility.

Epistemological Pluralism: This is an epistemological approach which utilizes multiple approaches to knowing and is distrustful of over-reliance on any one epistemological approach. From this position, it is believed that multiple approaches to knowing are needed to better approximate truth.

Epistemological Relativism: This is a more extreme position in which it is believed that all epistemologies are equal. It is often associated with an absolute relativism position. Compare with Epistemological Humility.

Epistemology: The study of knowledge or the nature of knowledge. Epistemology essentially refers to the question of “how to we know what we know.” In this sense, epistemology is the foundation of psychology, philosophy, science, and all human knowing. It is the most essential branch of philosophy.

Foundationalism: This is a theory of knowledge or form of epistemology which assumes that all knowledge is built upon certain principles, givens, or unquestionable knowledge.

Hermeneutics: The idea of hermeneutics emerged from theology and literature referring to the process through which people interpret classic texts. Over time, the usage of hermeneutics expanded to include many forms of texts, including people as texts. The central meaning of this concept remains tied to approaches to interpretation.

Inductive Knowledge: These are general premises or principles which are determined from a number of more general statements or observations. Compare with Deductive Knowledge.

Logic: From a postmodern view, logic can be seen as a social constructed methodology. In other words, the idea that principles of logic are universal is seen as an oppressive metanarrative from a postmodern perspective. A concrete example is the difference between Eastern and Western approaches to logic. What is deemed as logical in one is illogical in another. This suggest that different cultures may have different approaches to reasoning through ideas.

More specifically, logic is the methodology of reason. The rationalists believed that our ability to reason or think through things was the best way to “know” (i.e., the preferred epistemology). The implicit assumptions, as suggested above, is that pure reason is possible and it can lead to an understanding of ultimate truth. However, the rationalists also recognized that it is impossible to ascertain ultimate truth just by raw reason. This was evidenced in the many different perspectives on ultimate truth. Logic was seen as the principles of reason that, when applied correctly, led to the discovery of ultimate truth.

Materialism: This position believes that all things that are real have a material or physical substance. It discounts any metaphysical reality (i.e., non-material). This is often used interchangeably with physicalism.

Metanarrative: A metanarrative has some similarity to Kuhn’s “paradigm;” however, there are some important differences. First, the terms are generally used in different settings. Metanarratives are generally used in philosophical and social science settings. Paradigm is the preferred term in scientific settings. The primary emphasis of a metanarrative refers to a set of beliefs applied universally that is unquestioned by the individual and/or group holding those beliefs.

Metaphysics: This is the brach of philosophy that deals with what is real or the nature of reality. In many ways, this is quite similar to epistemology and ontology. However, some important distinctions exist. Things can exist without being (ontology) and things can be real with out our comprehension or knowing (epistemology). Metaphysics tends to deal with things that are unseen. For example, “do we have a mind that is separate from our material brain?” is a metaphysical question.

Does God exist? Do we have a soul? Can we communicate with people who have passed away? All these are other metaphysical questions.

Methodology: Methodology is a very difficult term. Essentially, methodology is the process or structure of epistemology used to determine truth, approximate truth, develop theories, or critique ideas. We all have implicit methodologies that shape the way we go about determining what we see as truth. At times, these may not be internally consistent (i.e., people may utilize different methodologies that contradict each other without realizing it).

Some examples may clarify. The most well known methodology is the scientific method. This is the process which science uses in their attempts to determine truth. Premodernism tends to use a methodology which focuses on explorations of revealed truth. For some, this is a “literalism” (Biblical Literalism, for example) in which there is believed to be a very literal, straightforward truth in the sacred text or other form of revealed knowledge. More complex premodern approaches focus on processes intended to get the original meaning of the sacred text. Conversely, postmodernism focuses on an epistemological pluralism which utilizes multiple processes to approach knowing. (see logic for another example of a methodology)

Moral Realism: Moral realism holds that, on some level, there is an absolute truth regarding what is moral. Stated differently, there are things that are definitively right and definitively wrong. While moral realists do no agree about the degree to which individuals can ascertain what in right to wrong in the ultimate sense, they generally do believe some things can be determined as right or wrong in an absolute sense. This position is often pitted against absolute relativism or the idea that morality is always socially constructed and dependent upon the culture in which the system of morality was developed. See also Realism and essay On Realism.

Objective: Being objective means to have no bias or distortions; to see things are they actually are. It assumes the individual is able to bracket their subjective perspective, biases, and prejudices. Postmodernism, in general, questions the degree to which we can obtain objectivity. Compare with Subjective.

Objective Truth: This is an unbiased truth. It is often used to mean Ultimate Truth. Compare with Subjective Truth.

Ontology: This refers to the study of or nature of being. This can refer to the study of being in the broad sense of what does it mean to exist or be. It can also be used to refer to an individual’s ontology or an individual’s being. In many ways, psychology could be seen as the study of ontology or what it means to be.

Pantheism: This refer to the belief that God is everything. In other words, the sum total of all that exists is God. Compare to panentheism.

Panentheism: This is the idea that God is in everything. It differs from pantheism which says God is the sum total of everything. Compare with pantheism.

Paradigm: The concept of paradigm was initially introduced by Thomas Kuhn (1996). Essentially, a paradigm refers to the world view through which the world around us is interpreted. They are constructed through the process of building knowledge and the world view and assumptions about truth which emerge from this process. Different types of paradigms can exist. For example, there are many cultural paradigms which are largely shared between individuals from a particular cultural background. People also have individual paradigms which influence the way they view the world (similar to the idea of a world view). Each of the three major philosophical epochs (premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism) can be seen as one example of a paradigm. Compare with zeitgeist and metanarrative.

Kuhn did not see paradigms as something that could be applied to the social sciences. His belief was based upon the idea that the social sciences are not build upon “provable” information, but rather theories. This belief about whether a paradigm is provable is important to distinguish between a paradigm and metanarrative (it could be maintained that paradigm applies to science in a similar manner to how metanarratives apply in the social sciences and culture at large).

A common example used to describe the impact of a paradigm is the sunglass effect. If you imagine having four different pair of sunglasses. Each pair of sunglasses is a paradigm that influences how you see the world. When you put on the red sunglasses everything looks different than when you have the gray or blue sunglasses. While wearing the red sunglasses, it may be more difficult to notice some aspects of your environment than it would be with the gray sunglasses. So the world appears different and we also may see things with one paradigm would not be evident with a different one.

Philosophy of Science: The philosophy of science essentially refers to epistemology as it is applied to science. In other words, how do we know what we know scientifically. In the hard sciences, the philosophy of science has long been based upon the scientific method and empiricism. More recently, quantum physics has called this into question. For much of the history of psychology, it has attempted to replicate this philosophy of science to apply to psychology. However, there have always been strong dissenter voices.

Physicalism: This position asserts that all things are physical or material, and thus can be understood in terms of their physics. This discounts any non-material reality (i.e., metaphysics). This is often used interchangeably with materialism.

Realism: Realist believe that there is an ultimate truth or ultimate reality that does exist. There are many forms of realism. For example, some realists believe that this ultimate truth or reality can be known, while others believe that it exists but cannot be known (see also anti-realism). Additionally, realism is sometimes defined as referring to a material reality, while at other times it can be understood as referring to a material or metaphysical reality. In other words, realism consistently refers to a ‘reality’ or something which truthfully exists in the world; however, it is not agreed upon as to what is real. See also Scientific RealismCritical Realism, and essay On Realism.

Relativism: Relativism is generally based upon the premise that all truth or knowledge is subjective, therefore all truths are equal. However, this is more of an extreme form of relativism which could be referred to as absolute relativism Relativism is often used to state that there is a relative aspect to all truth, but this does not mean that all truths are equal. Compare with relative.

Relative: Things, concepts, or truths which are relative are based upon a context, but not necessary absolutely relative. As compared with absolute relativism, which has to referent point, when something is relative it is often relative to something. Stated differently, it has a point of reference that may limit the degree of relativism. Compare with relativism.

Science: Postmodernism often assumes that the idea of science is socially construct and has evolved over time. In contemporary society, it is often assumed that science refers to experimentation (generally quantitative) which involves the scientific method. Postmodernism will sometimes use a broader definition of science to include all systematic approaches to inquiry.

Scientific Method: This may be a different approach to defining the scientific method than what is commonly taught in science classes. These courses generally focus the particulars of the scientific method and how to implement it. This definition focuses on the underlying philosophy of science. There are two primary epistemological assumptions underlying the scientific method: Reason and empiricism (knowing through the senses). The scientific method emerged out of the development of modernism which replaced the epistemology of revelation with rationalism and empiricism. When you look closely, there are several rational assumptions which underlie the scientific method. Reason or logic are applied to how sensory information is interpreted to form what becomes the basis of the scientific method.

Scientific Realism: This type of realism generally assumes what is real can be studied and quantified by science. Generally, this suggests a material realism.

Subjective: The subjective in philosophical discussions is typically used to refer to something that is personal or individual, such as an individual’s subjective (e.g., personal) truth. In many philosophical discourses, it goes beyond just the personal to the embodied. In other words, its a truth that is known through personal experience or through the person. Compare with Objective.

Subjective Truth: This refers to a personal or relative truth. Subjective truth is tied to the individual and more embodied. Compare with Objective Truth.

Ultimate Truth: Ultimate truth is also referred to as capital “T” truth or universal truth. This truth applies in all times and in all situations. At times, ultimate truth will be separated from smaller truth which may not be universal in their application across situations and time. Ultimate truth is often written as “Truth” in order to distinguish it from smaller “truths.”

Universal Truth: See Ultimate Truth.

Zeitgeist: This is generally characterized as the spirit of the times. This has some similarities to Thomas Kuhn’s idea of paradigms. The major difference from Kuhn’s conception of paradigm is that zeitgeist is assumed to have a progressive influence or impact which tends to push culture forward. Compare with metanarrative.